Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 30

A Captive Knight — Richard and Alice

—— dum fata, sînunt. jungamus amores:

mox veniet tenebris Mors adoperta caput:

jam subrepet incrs otas, nee amare deeebii,

dicere nee ucuio blandîtias capite.

Let us, while Fate allows, in love combine,

Ere our last night its shade around us throw,

Or Ages slow-creeping quench the fire divine,

And tender words befit not locks of snow.

The shuttlecock had been some time on the wing, struck to and fro with unerring aim, and to all appearances would never have touched the ground, if Lord Curryfin had not seen, or fancied he saw, symptoms of fatigue on the part of his fair antagonist. He therefore, instead of returning the shuttlecock, struck it upward, caught it in his hand, and presented it to her, saying, ‘I give in. The victory is yours.’ She answered, ‘The victory is yours, as it always is, in courtesy.’

She said this with a melancholy smile, more fascinating to him than the most radiant expression from another. She withdrew to the drawing-room, motioning to him not to follow.

In the drawing-room she found Miss Gryll, who appeared to be reading; at any rate, a book was open before her.

Miss Gryll. You did not see me just now, as I passed through the hall. You saw only two things: the shuttlecock, and your partner in the game.

Miss Niphet.. It is not possible to play, and see anything but the shuttlecock.

Miss Gryll. And the hand that strikes it.

Miss Niphet.. That comes unavoidably into sight.

Miss Gryll. My dear Alice, you are in love, and do not choose to confess it.

Miss Niphet.. I have no right to be in love with your suitor.

Miss Gryll. He was my suitor, and has not renounced his pursuit; but he is your lover. I ought to have seen long ago, that from the moment his eyes rested on you all else was nothing to him. With all that habit of the world which enables men to conceal their feelings in society, with all his exertion to diffuse his attentions as much as possible among all the young ladies in his company, it must have been manifest to a careful observer, that when it came, as it seemed in ordinary course, to be your turn to be attended to, the expression of his features was changed from complacency and courtesy to delight and admiration. I could not have failed to see it, if I had not been occupied with other thoughts. Tell me candidly, do you not think it is so?

Miss Niphet. Indeed, my dear Morgana, I did not designedly enter into rivalry with you; but I do think you conjecture rightly.

Miss Gryll. And if he were free to offer himself to you, and if he did so offer himself, you would accept him?

Miss Niphet.. Assuredly I would.

Miss Gryll. Then, when you next see him, he shall be free. I have set my happiness on another cast, and I will stand the hazard of the die.

Miss Niphet.. You are very generous, Morgana: for I do not think you give up what you do not value.

Miss Gryll. No, indeed. I value him highly. So much so, that I have hesitated, and might have finally inclined to him, if I had not perceived his invincible preference of you. I am sorry, for your sake and his, that I did not clearly perceive it sooner; but you see what it is to be spoiled by admirers. I did not think it possible that any one could be preferred to me. I ought to have thought it possible, but I had no experience in that direction. So now you see a striking specimen of mortified vanity.

Miss Niphet.. You have admirers in abundance, Morgana: more than have often fallen to the lot of the most attractive young women. And love is such a capricious thing, that to be the subject of it is no proof of superior merit. There are inexplicable affinities of sympathy, that make up an irresistible attraction, heaven knows how.

Miss Gryll. And these inexplicable affinities Lord Curryfin has found in you, and you in him.

Miss Niphet.. He has never told me so.

Miss Gryll. Not in words: but looks and actions have spoken for him. You have both struggled to conceal your feelings from others, perhaps even from yourselves. But you are both too ingenuous to dissemble successfully. You suit each other thoroughly: and I have no doubt you will find in each other the happiness I most cordially wish you.

Miss Gryll soon found an opportunity of conversing with Lord Curryfin, and began with him somewhat sportively: ‘I have been thinking,’ she said, ‘of an old song which contains a morsel of good advice —

Be sure to be off with the old love,

Before you are on with the new.

You begin by making passionate love to me, and all at once you turn round to one of my young friends, and say, “Zephyrs whisper how I love you.”’

Lord Curryfin. Oh no! no, indeed. I have not said that, nor anything to the same effect.

Miss Gryll. Well, if you have not exactly said it, you have implied it. You have looked it. You have felt it. You cannot conceal it. You cannot deny it. I give you notice that, if I die for love of you, I shall haunt you.

Lord Curryfin. Ah! Miss Gryll, if you do not die till you die for love of me, you will be as immortal as Circe, whom you so divinely represented.

Miss Gryll. You offered yourself to me, to have and to hold, for ever and aye. Suppose I claim you. Do not look so frightened. You deserve some punishment, but that would be too severe. But, to a certain extent, you belong to me, and I claim the right to transfer you. I shall make a present of you to Miss Niphet.. So, according to the old rules of chivalry, I order you, as my captive by right, to present yourself before her, and tell her that you have come to receive her commands, and obey them to the letter. I expect she will keep you in chains for life. You do not look much alarmed at the prospect. Yet you must be aware that you are a great criminal; and you have not a word to say in your own justification.

Lord Curryfin. Who could be insensible to charms like yours, if hope could have mingled with the contemplation? But there were several causes by which hope seemed forbidden, and therefore ——

Miss Gryll. And therefore when beauty, and hope, and sympathy shone under a more propitious star, you followed its guidance. You could not help yourself:

What heart were his that could resist

That melancholy smile?

I shall flatter myself that I might have kept you if I had tried hard for it at first; but

Il pentirsi da sesto nulla giova.

No doubt you might have said with the old song,

I ne’er could any lustre see

In eyes that would not look on me.

But you scarcely gave me time to look on you before you were gone. You see, however, like our own Mirror of Knighthood, I make the best of my evil fate, and

Cheer myself up with ends of verse,

And sayings of philosophers.

Lord Curryfin. I am glad to see you so merry; for even if your heart were more deeply touched by another than it ever could have been by me, I think I may say of you, in your own manner,

So light a heel

Will never wear the everlasting flint.

I hope and I believe you will always trip joyously over the surface of the world. You are the personification of L’Allegro.

Miss Gryll. I do not know how that may be. But go now to the personification of La Penserosa. If you do not turn her into a brighter Allegro than I am, you may say I have no knowledge of woman’s heart.

It was not long after this dialogue that Lord Curryfin found an opportunity of speaking to Miss Niphet alone. He said, ‘I am charged with a duty, such as was sometimes imposed on knights in the old days of chivalry. A lady, who claims me as her captive by right, has ordered me to kneel at your feet, to obey your commands, and to wear your chains, if you please to impose them.’

Miss Niphet. To your kneeling I say, Rise; for your obedience, I have no commands; for chains, I have none to impose.

Lord Curryfin. You have imposed them, I wear them already, inextricably, indissolubly.

Miss Niphet. If I may say, with the witch in Thalaba,

Only she,

Who knit his bonds, can set him free,

I am prepared to unbind the bonds. Rise my lord, rise.

Lord Curryfin. I will rise if you give me your hand to lift me up.

Miss Niphet.. There it is. Now that it has helped you up, let it go.

Lord Curryfin. And do not call me my lord.

Miss Niphet. What shall I call you?

Lord Curryfin. Call me Richard, and let me call you Alice.

Miss Niphet.. That is a familiarity only sanctioned by longer intimacy than ours has been.

Lord Curryfin. Or closer?

Miss Niphet. We have been very familiar friends during the brief term of our acquaintance. But let go my hand.

Lord Curryfin, I have set my heart on being allowed to call you Alice, and on your calling me Richard.

Miss Niphet. It must not be so — at least, not yet.

Lord Curryfin. There is nothing I would not do to acquire the right.

Miss Niphet. Nothing?

Lord Curryfin. Nothing.

Miss Niphet. How thrives your suit with Miss Gryll?

Lord Curryfin. That is at an end. I have her permission — her command she calls it — to throw myself at your feet, and on your mercy.

Miss Niphet. How did she take leave of you, crying or laughing?

Lord Curryfin. Why, if anything, laughing.

Miss Niphet.. Do you not feel mortified?

Lord Curryfin. I have another and deeper feeling, which predominates over any possible mortification.

Miss Niphet. And that is —

Lord Curryfin. Can you doubt what it is!

Miss Niphet.. I will not pretend to doubt. I have for some time been well aware of your partiality for me.

Lord Curryfin. Partiality! Say love, adoration, absorption of all feelings into one.

Miss Niphet.. Then you may call me Alice. But once more, let go my hand.

Lord Curryfin. My hand, is it not?

Miss Niphet.. Yours, when you claim it.

Lord Curryfin. Then thus I seal my claim.

He kissed her hand as respectfully as was consistent with ‘masterless passion’; and she said to him, ‘I will not dissemble. If I have had one wish stronger than another — strong enough to exclude all others — it has been for the day when you might be free to say to me what you have now said. Am I too frank with you?’

Lord Curryfin. Oh, heaven, no! I drink in your words as a stream from paradise.

He sealed his claim again, but this time it was on her lips. The rose again mantled on her cheek, but the blush was heightened to damask. She withdrew herself from his arms, saying, ‘Once for all, till you have an indisputable right.’

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24